1999: A Promise Betrayed- A Scottish Parliament with Full Home Rule
New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair fell under the spell of the USA and Press baron Murdoch. The lurch to the right brought with it new thinking about Scottish devolution, to which he had been forced against his will, to commit to by John Smith politicians within the new government as part of the leadership campaign. The difference agreed to by Blair was the emphasis to be placed on Scottish devolution and the amount of powers to be transferred to it.
Donald Dewar, good friend of John Smith and keen supporter of Scottish Home Rule reluctantly agreed to devolution with minimum powers with a promise that, over time the authority of the new parliament would be expanded to full home rule effectively creating a UK federal State with a central governing body taking charge of concerns with an external bias. He died before the commitment would be honoured. New Labour reneged on their commitment.
Scot’s have long memories and provided with the opportunity through the ballot box removed the Labour Party from power over Scottish political affairs and on 7 May 2015 the rout will be complete with the rejection of the Labour Party in Scotland.
It could all have been so different. Had John Smith lived Scotland would have benefitted from full Home Rule and the Labour Party would have retained the trust of the Scottish electorate.
April 2014: John Smith – Scotland’s lost leader
In a remarkably prescient 1992 speech at Strathclyde University John Smith questioned the nature of British democracy, warning that people were losing faith in the democratic process; arguing government had become remote and overly centralised.
He objected to the clawing of power back to the centre, the stifling of voices of dissent and the closing down of channels of open and accountable government.
He argued that democracy needed reform and the process of centralisation needed to be reversed and he wanted to restore people’s faith in their system of government.
Key to that reform was, he believed, the conscious devolution of power to the nations and regions of the UK, and the first step was the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, effectively committing the Labour Party to establish that parliament as the “settled will” of the Scottish people.
Smith was a convert to devolution in the Seventies, not because he saw it as a means of killing “nationalism stone dead” or to buy time for a Labour government, but because he saw it as a means of addressing a democratic deficit, bringing politicians closer to the people and making them more accountable for their actions.
While administrative powers were increasingly ceded by Whitehall to the Scottish Office, answerable only to the secretary of state, there was no corresponding devolution of political control over Scottish affairs to the Scottish people over areas of policy that had a direct impact on the lives of Scots. That had to change.
A Scottish Parliament, he believed, was essential to the democratic governance of “our nation”, by which he meant the United Kingdom not just Scotland and in Smith’s view “unfinished business”. Devolution was in the interests of the UK, not just Scotland, and a key part of the democratic renewal of the British constitution and its civil institutions.
It would be a parliament to legislate on matters unique to Scotland but with a government in Westminster to address the wider concerns of the UK as a whole. Mike Elrick: Press Officer to Labour leader John Smith